Is God’s Love Unconditional?

The term ‘unconditional love’ seems to have only appeared fairly recently in human history and is, I think, a product of the modern liberal western mentality which is obsessed with such notions as loving oneself and of always being affirmed and never judged. Past generations didn’t use the term because they simply had no need to. Because they better understood what love is than do people today, the term simply wasn’t necessary. One just talked about love. But because the term is so becoming so increasingly widespread even amongst Christians, we do need to give it some thought. Indeed, a great many believers seem to be incapable of talking about God’s love without needing to be constantly emphasising that it’s unconditional. But is it, though? Is it biblically correct to speak in terms of God’s love being unconditional?

Think of it like this! A coin has two sides and not just one, and many things in life similarly have more that just one aspect to them. So if we talk about something that has various aspects as if it only had one, then although what we say may be true in so far as it goes, it won’t be the whole truth of the matter and will actually be misleading. This is happening more and more in regards to how Christians are increasingly defining God’s love, and the result is not only that they are deceiving themselves, they are also deceiving unbelievers through the unbiblical content of their so-called evangelism.

I concur that it is most certainly the case that love is unconditional; but to merely emphasise that aspect of it’s nature, but to not also represent the other side of the coin, is to completely misrepresent what it is, and to completely fail to properly define it. You can no more have unqualified unconditional love than you can have a one-sided coin. Love that is not unconditional could not be considered to be love, but neither could something be considered to be love which claims itself to be solely unconditional with no further qualification! One-sided coins simply don’t exist, and neither does a love which claims as the only aspect of its nature it’s unconditionality.

Think of parents raising their kids. Any parent worth their salt loves their children unconditionally; but precisely because they love them unconditionally they also, by very definition, desire their ultimate happiness and well-being. Good, decent and responsible parents instinctively know that in order to accomplish this the child must be taught right from wrong and good from bad, and that the parent must be ready, whenever necessary, to actually impose discipline on the child in order to bring about that end. Parents who care nothing about their children’s behaviour, whether it be good or bad, and who care nothing about their developing characters, whether their kids are nice or horrible, and then claim that their lack of concern is because they love their children unconditionally, would not just be extremely bad parents, they would also be talking complete nonsense. Doing whatever is necessary in order to ensure that their childrens’ behaviour is moving from bad to good, and from wrong to right, is one of the necessary evidences that parents do indeed love their children. To then add the (completely unnecessary) caveat that such parents also love their children unconditionally is simply another way of saying that they love their children. A good parent, by very definition, loves their child unconditionally at any and every point in their moral development, but precisely because they do love their children with such unconditional love, they also cannot help but want to see them continually improving in their human and moral development. The ‘other side of the coin’ of love being unconditional is, therefore, that love also seeks to improve, in whatever way it can, the condition and well-being of its object.

The reason that love is, by very definition, unconditional, and why it could never be said to be love otherwise, is because the only alternative would be that it had to be earned. It would need to be secured by ongoing acceptable performance. But of course such could never be said to be love! It is simply the gaining of favour through merit, which is an entirely different thing to being loved! Conversely, however, to claim to ‘love’ someone whilst doing nothing to bring about their improvement is equally a complete mockery. You might as well assure a starving beggar in the street that you love him unconditionally, and then add that precisely because your love for him is unconditional it doesn’t matter whether or not you give him some food. Such would be both a mockery and travesty of any notion of love!

I therefore put it to you that the reason so many Christians are increasingly putting such emphasis on God’s love being unconditional, and going so completely out of their way to assure people that He loves everyone ‘just the way they are’, is because they have been deceived by the prevalent over-emphasis on the unconditional aspect of the nature of love, and the idea that the behaviour of those who are its objects is irrelevant to that love. And what this does, however unintentionally, is to spread the falsehood that the fact that God loves people unconditionally means that He won’t ever judge and punish them. Such is, of course, exactly what unrepentant sinners love to hear! It is a ‘gospel’ of having all the benefits of there being a divine Creator, but a Creator who puts no moral requirements upon those He has created, and Who will never punish them for their rejection of Him! What more could unrepentant sinners want by way of a totally false gospel? All the sin and depravity you could possibly want – with God’s unconditional love thrown in! And it’s Christians who are actually encouraging unbelievers to think like this. But here’s the problem: no such God, and therefore no such gospel, actually exists!

Of course God loves unbelievers unconditionally! Of course He loves them just the way they are! If you don’t love someone just the way they are then that’s just another way of saying that you don’t actually love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at the Great White Throne Judgement, this God-Who-unconditionally-loves-everybody-just-the-way-they-are will nevertheless throw those who haven’t repented of their sins, and who haven’t put their trust in Him, into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. However discomfiting to the modern mindset it might be, being loved unconditionally by the God Who actually does exist will avail those who reject Him absolutely nothing. Those who reject Him, and who refuse to repent, will be eternally lost, and the fact that in His love for them He has provided a way of escape, yet a way of escape which they refused to take, will make not the slightest bit of difference to fact of their eternal damnation!

Precisely because of His love the Lord has done everything necessary in order to provide salvation for all, but in order to receive that salvation the sinner must repent and believe, and if they don’t, then eternal judgement is all that awaits them! And the reason the Lord won’t let such into Heaven, even though He does indeed love them unconditionally, is because, as we have seen, there is no such thing as a love which doesn’t seek the improvement of the one loved, and therefore no such thing as a love that can’t be rejected by its object. If someone refuses to be improved by the unconditional love of God (or of anyone else for that matter), then the fact that He does so love them makes no ultimate difference. In refusing to be improved by Him they put themselves beyond anything further He can do. Though loved beyond measure, those who refuse to surrender shut themselves out from that love, and are thereby lost in their sins for all eternity. Moreover, if they so disliked the idea of being morally improved by a righteous God in this life, then just think how much they would hate being in Heaven in the next, where that same holiness and righteousness will be utterly revealed and totally all-encompassing! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting that they won’t hate being in the Lake of Fire, they most certainly will, but as those to whom God granted their desire to not be morally improved by Him, and to not be set free from their sin, they would also hate being in Heaven, though for completely different reasons!

The notion of a God of love Who just ignores sin, and Who accepts everyone just as they are, and Who is too loving to ever judge or punish anyone, is a complete fantasy! In fact, it is the most ridiculous and full-blown nonsense! There could no more be a God-of-love-but-not-righteousness-and-justice than there could be a coin with only one side. Love is, as we have seen, most certainly unconditional, but unconditional love, precisely because it is love, can never disregard the moral condition of its object.

There are ramifications here for believers too, and they are profound! We need to understand – indeed, be greatly reassured – that, as God’s children, He doesn’t love us any more when we are being obedient and faithful, and neither does He love us any less when we are sinning and in disobedience. When we are being obedient and faithful He smiles on us, but when we are sinning and being disobedient to Him, He still smiles on us, but desires to also discipline us and deal with our rebellion. He will even, if necessary, turn away from us relationally until we properly respond so as to restore our fellowship with Him. I don’t mean that He might not let us into Heaven after all, of course not! The believer getting to Heaven depends solely upon Jesus’ death, and there is nothing that can undo that! No! What I mean is that if we have un-dealt with sin in our lives then we are kidding ourselves if we think He is listening to us any more. He isn’t!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me!” That’s what scripture says!

When we are in unrepentant sin the Lord just patiently waits for us to come clean and get right with Him so He can restore our relationship with Him. In such a circumstance the only thing He is saying to us, irrespective of anything we say to Him is, “Come clean and repent of that sin! You must say you are sorry!” (I have even from time to time found myself desperately repenting of just about everything except the specific thing He is actually convicting me of. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Married couples understand this principle only too well! A husband who is unkind or disrespectful to his wife before he goes to work can hardly expect his relationship with her to be as it ought to be when he gets home, until he has put things right with her and said the needed sorry. It’s not that he and his wife have stopped being married, but rather that sin has disrupted the relationship between them until things are put right! So even though God’s children, we can nevertheless still be out of fellowship with Him relationally should we harbour unrepentant sin in our lives.

Perhaps we could put it like this: The issue isn’t actually whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we love Him; and Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Being loved is irrelevant unless the one who is loved responds in kind!

So let’s be a bit careful then when we talk about love being unconditional. Let’s make sure that we never, even inadvertently, give unbelievers reason to think that God’s love for them means that He isn’t concerned with how they behave or with their moral condition. Our loving God, precisely because He is love, will one day judge the living and the dead, and unrepentant sinners who have never embraced His salvation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That they were loved by Him is ultimately irrelevant to their impending eternal damnation! Their problem is that they didn’t love Him, and therefore refused to obey Him. Any understanding of God’s love that doesn’t take this sobering fact into account is pure, unadulterated deception!

For us as believers though what matters is simply this: precisely because the Lord loves us just the way we are, He wants to also improve us so that we don’t stay just the way we are. He wants to mature us, and to move us forward in Him into ever greater fulness of the Spirit and holiness of life.

As scripture so simply and clearly says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

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Is Love Unconditional?

TrainOne of the legacies of sin is the ever-present risk of mis-communication. Even people who speak the same language struggle to make themselves clear, and we all too often use words and phrases with the assumption that what we have said is what others have heard. Further, as western societies become ever more godless, words like love and tolerance, which even wilful rebels against the Lord want to own for themselves, change meaning, often coming to denote the exact opposite of their original accepted definitions. (For instance, nowadays tolerance is not understood to be the allowing of something of which one disapproves, which is what the word actually means, but rather the mere disapproving of something. If one disapproves of sexual immorality, be it straight or gay, yet freely accepts people’s legal right to indulge in such activity in private, and without being treated badly by others in any way because of so doing, then that is tolerance as the word has been historically understood. Today, however, one is increasingly labeled an intolerant bigot merely for disapproving of such, even though one is not trying to make it illegal or treating badly in any way those who indulge.) Indeed, with Western churches propagating every conceivable possible moral viewpoint, from biblical fundamentalism one the one hand through to even the deliberate appointing of both heterosexually immoral and gay leaders on the other, even the word Christian has become but a meaningless sound emanating from the mouths of countless people, all holding to entirely differing definitions of it.

Words, words, words

It is therefore time for us to start concentrating on carefully defining what we mean by just about everything we say. I am not averse to using such words as I have highlighted, of course not, but we must be very deliberately qualifying what we actually mean when we use them. And I think a good place to start is all this completely misleading nonsense that Christians keep spouting about God loving and accepting everyone just as they are. (Hmmm! How on earth am I going to get away with saying that then?)

The most serious and damaging way of misrepresenting the truth of something, or of mis-defining the meaning of a particular word, is to present but a part of its content or meaning, but not all. And nowhere is this done more than with the word love, and therefore also God’s love. Hence the way in which, with the help of countless leaders of the so-called Christian church, people who advocate and practise such things as abortion, sex outside of marriage, various perversions etc make reference to Jesus in such a way so as to make out that He would be standing with them in full approval of their ideas and what they do, whilst railing against the supposed bigotry of anyone who says that such things are wrong. And they do this because 1) Jesus is associated with love in the minds of unbelievers quite as much as in the minds of His people, and 2) it is their contention and belief that not only does love mean never having to say you’re sorry, it means never having to even accept that one is ever wrong. Regarding such things the only wrongdoing is saying that such things are wrong in the first place.

So let’s be very careful when we talk about God loving people just the way they are. It appears that what society is actually hearing is that Christianity teaches that God is soft on sin (probably doesn’t even believe in it) and doesn’t mind too much how people live. The truth, however, is rather that if those who don’t believe in Jesus do stay just the way they are, God is Himself going to throw them kicking and screaming into the Lake of Fire for eternity. Some kind of qualification is clearly needed then in order for the full-orbed impact of God’s love for people to be properly understood, even by Christians, and not misrepresented the way in which it currently is.

Of course God loves people just the way they are! Let’s get that straight right from the get-go. Indeed, if you don’t love someone just the way they are, but would love them if they were somehow different, then that is just another way of saying you don’t love them. So if the Lord didn’t love people just as they are, then it couldn’t be said that He loves them at all. Indeed, this is what His death on the cross is all about. The fact that He died for us precisely whilst we were yet sinners and still at enmity with Him is at the very heart of the gospel, but that death on the Cross alone has never saved anyone and never will. Salvation is not received  because Jesus died for us, in which case everyone would be saved, but when someone lays hold of Him by faith, thereby actually accepting the free gift that was won for them through His death.

But what happens next? Once someone is saved, then what? Well, the Bible teaches that then, having loved us and having died for us just the way were were, He then sets out to clean us up from our sin and filthiness and cause us to walk in obedience and holiness in His power and strength before Him. Here is the other side of the coin. As any good parent knows, you love your children just the way they are, even in their worst moments; but it is precisely because you love them just the way they are that you also want better for them, that they might be improved and become better children all the time. You love them just the way they are, of course, yet that very same love is  also the very same reason you don’t want them to stay just the way they are, but want them to improve and mature.

And so with the Lord and us. Precisely because He loves us just the way we are He wants to also change us and set us free from the power of sin in our lives that prevents us from being what we otherwise could far better be. He wants to deliver us from the evil in our hearts which sent Him to the cross in the first place, and bring us to greater holiness by which we come to see Him ever more clearly.

Careful What You Say

Don’t ever tell someone that God loves them just the way they are without telling them as well that the fact that He does so is why He also wants to free them from their sin, and to precisely not let them carry on being just the way they are. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth!” That’s the truth of the matter! It leaves no room whatsoever, whether in evangelising unbelievers, or in our fellowship together as believers, for the entirely wrong idea that we can just stick with our sins and that the Lord is somehow okay with us so doing.

I am very happy with the contention that the Lord loves us unconditionally. But if those words convey to you that unconditional love somehow means that continuing in sin is an alright proposition, then I cannot tell you how unhappy I am with it. But if in your mind it is simply one part of the equation that, unless love is unconditional it can’t actually be love at all, but that then, by very definition, it seeks the moral improvement of the one it has been unconditionally set upon, then I am a most happy bunny.

My very relationship with the Lord depends on the simple fact that He doesn’t love me any the more when I am being faithful, nor any the less when I am being disobedient. But I know too that, precisely because He does want the best for me, and because nothing hurts or damages me (and others) more than my sin, He will go all out to lead me in godliness and deal with me as His child, however drastically, in order to bring me (and others) to ultimate joy and happiness.

If we are to love each other just the way we are, then it means that we must be willing to crawl over broken glass in order to help each other get free from sin.

(Ah yes, the train! I just thought it was a nice picture! I took it just when we were staying near Chicago! Hope you like it! It certainly gave me a buzz!)